MPPSC can't deny details to citizens on selection done by it: State Information Commission
The SIC cited a few Supreme Court judgments "that mandate transparency in selection and appointment process" and set aside the order of the FAA
The Madhya Pradesh Public Service Commission (MPPSC) cannot deny details of the selection done by it to citizens as all such appointments take place at the cost of public money, state Information Commissioner Rahul Singh has said in an order.
He has directed the MPPSC, which conducts the selection process for different posts under the state government, to pay Rs 5,000 as compensation to an RTI applicant as he had to suffer unwarranted physical and mental agony on account of denial of complete and satisfactory information.
Dr Pankaj Shrivastav had filed an application with the MPPSC under the Right to Information (RTI) Act in December last year, seeking details of the documents submitted by five candidates selected for the post of Ayurvedic Medical Officer.
Shrivastav was one of the shortlisted candidates for the post.
Both the Public Information Officer (PIO) and the First Appellate Authority (FAA) of the commission denied the information to the applicant "by calling it third-party information without any larger public interest and that section 8(1)(J) of the RTI Act bars dispersal of information related to third party".
Aggrieved over the denial, Shrivastav approached the State Information Commission (SIC).
In his order, the information commissioner said the appellant had legitimate doubts about the selection procedure for the post of Ayurvedic Medical Officer and the larger public interest on having a transparent recruitment process in government agencies has been overlooked.
"MPPSC is a public authority as per section 2(h) of the Act. Any appointment for any position under MPPSC happens at the cost of public money. Moreover, the appointment, as per the facts of this case, is happening for the position of Ayurvedic Medical Officer, which is directly linked with public health. All of these facts show that there is larger 'public interest' involved in this case," he said.
The PIO, as mandated under section 19(5) of the RTI Act, failed to prove before the SIC that the denial of the request was justified, Singh said in the order that was reserved on July 30 and issued on Friday.
He said section 8(1)(J) is one of the grossly misused provisions under the RTI Act "and it has become the standard provision used for denying information".
It is to be noted that a mindless application of section 8(1)(J) will defeat the very purpose of the Act and will also lead to the violation of Article 19(1)(A) of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression, the order said.
The SIC cited a few Supreme Court judgments "that mandate transparency in selection and appointment process" and set aside the order of the FAA.
It directed the MPPSC PIO to disclose all the information free of cost to the appellant within 15 days of the receipt of the order.
Former information commissioner in the Central Information Commission (CIC) in Delhi Shailesh Gandhi said it is a landmark order by the Madhya Pradesh Information Commission.
"Rahul Singh's order is a landmark order for the RTI Act. After many decisions on sections 8(1)(J) and 11 of the Act, which are not aligned with the law, this decision restores the words and intent of Parliament truly," he said.
In his order, Singh said the general administration department of Madhya Pradesh provided all documents relating to education and the qualification certificates pertaining to the selection and appointment process of the chief information commissioner and the state information commissioners under the RTI Act in 2019.
"Hence, MPPSC is no exception to this rule," he added.
Singh said the appellant had to suffer unwarranted physical and mental agony, and harassment, and that the "commission, thus, by the power vested in it under section 19(8)(B) of the RTI Act, directs the public authority through its secretary, MPPSC to pay a sum of Rs 5,000 to the appellant as compensation within four weeks of receipt of this order with an intimation to the SIC".
The SIC observed "gross violation and misuse of the provisions of the RTI Act for denial of information in this matter" and therefore, asked the PIO to appear before it on October 1.
It also decided to issue a show-cause notice to the PIO as to why the maximum penalty of Rs 25,000 should not be imposed on him under section 20 of the Act for unreasonable and deliberate obstruction in providing the information, according to the order.
"In a progressive nation, upholding and promoting transparency in the selection and appointment process in public authority is an indication of good governance," it said.
If there are any doubts about a selection and appointment process, it becomes all the more a legal, moral and constitutional obligation on any public authority to come clean with its records, the order said.